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In this week's Things I Think I Think, Mark told you about an ethical situation we were recently exposed to.

He asked: "What's reasonable in search of a discount? What's right? If this person worked for you, what would you do? What if they worked for someone else in your organization?

We've created this forum post for you to share your thoughts - so what do you think?


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Things I Think I Think is part of the Personal License. Here's what Natascha says about the value of a license for her:

At the London conference, I won a license and up until then I never considered paying that extra for a license, since you & Mike share so many good things for free. After trying the licence now, there is no doubt I cannot continue without it and when my license expires next year, I will renew at my own private expense. It is amazing, how much extra you have put in there and how you continue to develop.

Purchase a License

peterddw's picture

I have been pondering this situation and three things come to mind. Firstly, there will always be people and organizations that are insistent upon a deal. Secondly, you folks handled it gracefully and in a professional manner - as always. Finally, you demonstrate consistency and passion by turning this into a teaching moment. Thanks for sharing.

nwillis's picture

For the moment all i will say is WOW. I've never had a single thing set my RSS on fire like this debate is.

I've had to take extra-ordinary action to clear all the replies , but that's fine. Its really good to see so many people in a debate.

I will also think about a license because i so enjoy your free podcasts and want to see how much more you chaps offer.

Many thanks to all at CT for their work and sound advice for so many years..

timd06's picture

The exchange was interesting and almost comical, until I paused and tried to assume positive intent. I don't have the "other side," but I can imagine the following-

The person asking is genuinely interested in the development of their folks and may well be a member or huge MT fan. They may sense that these individuals will benefit from the conference, in fact, if they benefit greatly it would create MORE MT devotees AND get their HR to open the budget a bit to send more folks. Let's pretend their budget only covers 1 person. They want to send two. Two MT missionaries are better than one, right? For everyone involved?

I recognize that is a long long stretch to assuming positive intent. The conversations themselves were professional and respectful. The end result can always be the same- we have a standard here, like most places, and it starts with a core value of integrity. I think about how many times I have made decisions based on false premises and regretted it later, even if the outcome was what we were going for, and land on that I believe and think you all made the right call. If the "positive intent" I laid out was real, that was the conversation that needed to be had, right?
Drucker tells us organizations are made up of people, and therefore could be considered people. If we use that standard, one organization was either trying to gain by negatively impacting another, or not asking the question honestly....and that's not cool.

alinebandeira's picture

I can see why the person did it and to me it feels like she was trying to point out something "you didn't think of". Of course you thought of that and the discount was to help, but maybe this person thought they were doing something good. And that they should be rewarded by that. I know that's a lot of interpretation, but I've been trying to not assume the worst in people (which I do all the time). 

I think that we are in a rush to show that we have value ("hey, I just helped you with your pricing and now you can help me save with my budget"), and that's when ethics could be less loud than it should be.

Having studied marketing, it hurts me to see little actions affecting a whole company and what other people have worked for. Fortunatelly, training could help. I really don't think it's lack of ethics, because maybe the person didn't think they were doing something wrong, just being a helping genious. Sometimes work environment can feel like a jungle, people need to slow down, think and be kind. 

stanponder's picture

What's reasonable in search of a discount? What's right?

I'll start here. I think in any organization--or if you're spending out of pocket--you should ask the questions on if a multi-person discount is available (if not made explicitly clear on a website). I like to think the days of frivolous spending without tying to personal development, company culture/team building, or some other essential objective are gone in most companies.

I would also assume that most places (such as yours, evidenced by the e-mails) don't mind in the least answering the questions honestly and openly.

If this person worked for you, what would you do?

It depends on what I found out. If MT sent me this as a "hey, here's the back-and-forth I had with one of your folks," I'd be severely disappointed and ashamed. Likely, I would profusely apologize. I'm a firm believer that any individual is the "face" of your group or organization to someone. In this case, if MT didn't know me personally, that person became the "face." So even though I would never have condoned the e-mail exchange, I'd feel compelled to apologize. (I'd honestly be shocked at the lack of ability to do simple math as well. As I was reading the e-mail exchange, I was thinking to myself "isn't the 3 in, 1 free a 25% discount, and $1150 to $850 somewhat less than that?")

For the employee, I would begin by asking them what their end goal was by sending the follow-up e-mail. Perhaps, assuming positive intent, I may have missed something. Maybe I had pushed too hard on being selective for workshops, and my messaging was unclear to where the employee felt compelled to get a lower rate in order to attend. Either way, I would be sending the message of whether you personally would have been dishonest or not, the messaging of your response is that you would not necessarily be ashamed of someone doing it. That in and of itself is not ethical.

Finally, I'd add that if we cannot trust in some areas, many things are lost already. MT should be able to trust their customers as leaders. I trust that people are working hard, are here when they say they are, and are doing quality work. If I can't trust, I would then be compelled to spend my day watching people enter and exit, check every detail of their work, and basically take away any opportunity I have to do my own work. If we cannot trust, our manager lives become a micromanagement nightmare, one for which I would have no desire to be involved.

Final note

As leaders, we are the compass for our culture, and are the face of our organization whether we're at work, sending e-mail, or on social media, whether we like it or not. We also must trust--and feel empowered and grateful when others trust us. It's the sign of a great relationship.

Thanks for the opportunity to post.

stanponder's picture

Typo above...I meant the $1100 to $850 discount, not $1150.

peglitis's picture

To the MT team... I have hearted you guys since day one- and will always remember that first feedback podcast from the beach:) Simple, clean and memorable. Reading this latest TITIT email... made me think... Pick up the phone- keep it simple- it's about effective communication- right? Talk don't type!!!

RS1990's picture

I think that this was handled well by you and your team and I think that it is great that you even offer this option to help people out who have to pay for this themselves. That said, you would not believe the lengths that companies are willing to go to save a buck these days. It is really bad what creating shreholder value has done. Especially taken at a macro level...what companies are willing to do that many consider "unethical" is ridiculous. Many (and I understand, not all) execs would sell their grandmother if it meant additional EPS and more money in stock options for them. So, not surprising at all to see people trying to pull one over on another company.

edcrawfordlv's picture

I'm confused. Perhaps its the High C in me. I always look for the optimal solution. It doesn't make sense to me to pay more for something when on the same website there is a lower rate for the same product. If I were to be in your correspondents place I'd send the same emails. Not with any malice, I'd be just trying to 'parse' the rules of the discount to see if there is any way that I could get the 'correct' price. Why would anyone want to pay more for the same product? My emails tend to be as cold as those emails when in reality I'm not so cold. You seem to feel that the emails are rude and marginally unethical? I read those emails as simply someone trying to 'systematically' figure out how to get the correct price. Ed Crawford

Darrell's picture

The first discount ask is OK - the value of things is not fixed, and the value to the person asking varies.  Some people feel they could have got a better deal if they only asked.  MT has a business model and all continuing businesses require revenue.  They made a principled decision to make an exception under specific circumstances.  Having funded courses myself, I applaud MT's taking notice of their client's.

To my eye - the secondary ask(s) is a draw down on relationship, but not an ethical violation.  It over-extends good faith efforts to get the company a discount.

The threat/proposal to elude MT's discount control mechanism, having declared intent in advance, is both brazen and speaks to character - specifically Trust.  The possibility of deception neither justifies it as a means to an end, nor does it justify a third ask. They are behaving as if an anonymous market participant, which, when part of a community, they are not.

This person's actions have harmed both their own reputation and also the reputation of the firm they represent.  Corrective action required, feedback minimum, and as a precaution for future (my suggestion to this person's manager) watch their expense reports. 

BariTony's picture

MT's pricing seems pretty transparent. If you're paying out of pocket, you get the discount. If not, you can get the group rate. Your pricing structure is your prerogative. I work for a small communications agency that's always watching the bottom line. When I registered for the MT conferences last year, I informed my supervisor of the MT pricing schedules and they paid the full price since they were paying, not me. They COULD have cheated, but they didn't. Bottom line. If you have to lie to get the discount, you're doing something wrong. Period. And just in case someone thinks they can be clever and parse the word "lie", remember the line from Herman Melville's short story Billy Budd "There are many ways to lie, Captain Claggart, but there is only one way to tell the truth."

It's not right. And if this person was on my team, they would get some negative feedback. Either we would pay full freight, or if they already paid out of pocket, tough. You made you decision. Now you have to live with it. If they worked for one of my peer managers, I would have a talk with their supervisor.

dauphin's picture

I don't know what is reasonable in search of a discount, but I know as a purchaser I look for them all the time and I think its my obligation to the organization that I do.

I thought the Org manager handled the situation very well as did the MT associate. 

In this case, my opinion is that the discount causes confusion as to the cost of the conference and if it can be done for $850 vs $1100, people are going to want the lower price. What I see in the email unless I'm missing something is someone asking for that price directly, being offered a different option, and then pointing out that the structure encourages unethical behavior because organizations can't get access to the best price. From what I can tell, that manager then stated he or she would register his/her team for the published organization price, but I could be wrong there. The manager is right, and there are unethical people, and they are going to take advantage of this. You can let that bother you or not, but I don't think you would have posted about it if it didn't bother you. 

If it bothers you enough to do something about it my feeback would be: I get the intent and the concept, but having two published prices is confusing and consumers believe the 'real' price is the low price and the other one has lots of markup so they should be able to negotiate to the real price. 

That being said, discounts are in part a marketing strategy, and in this case I also think a value statement that is important to MT. I would ask your team what you are trying to do with this discount and see if those things could be accomplished in a better way using different means. 

Dauphin

pmwitt's picture
lou's picture

Seeking to earn a discount that you clearly don't qualify for is flat out wrong, and I would have strong negative feedback to my direct if they engaged in such behavior. You offer a great product at a reasonable price and make an unecessary but welcome concession for those paying with their own funds.  

Everyone has a certain level of "deal seeking" as an impulse, and those who negotiate all day tend to have that to a greater degree (self-selecting). Not to cast blame where it doesn't belong, as I believe any wrong with with the buyer. But I wonder if this deal seeking behavior was reinforced, unintentionally, but the pricing and language. I'm not certain, on reading it, how to make it more accurate, but I wonder if certain changes might help counter any undesirable impulse among this "deal seeking" group. Concentric circles and whatnot.

rcbottass's picture

The e-mail exchange and this thread are fine examples of why quality communication is priceless. Because the e-mailer used less communication, their intent was unclear. I feel MT handled it well. And as for discounted prices, I think it's cool that MT is willing to work with folks on pricing. But that should have reasonable limits. Let's face it, for those of use who have been licensees for years, we have been practically stealing from MT this whole time. Their value far exceeds the prices they've set. I'd overpay for a MT event if that was the dealbreaker.

timd06's picture

Interesting take.... More communication/better communication- in context a tremendous compliment about value and ROI, out of context you get the perp walk!  

ShannonCorin's picture

I saw the person as being honest. They pointed out what a dishonest person or company would do and asked a question on how MT would handle it. Who would point that out and then do it?  I think MT handled it perfectly showing what the boundaries, expectations and consequences are if someone did.

How far should a company go to get a discount? In my opinion, not so far as to be dishonest and unethical. However, being in government, we always have to prove due diligence. What could be considered reasonable for one person is not necessarily reasonable for another. So, people tend to fault on the slighlty above reasonable side. Who knows what this person's experience is. Were they recently faulted for not doing enough in something? Had they pushed for discounts before and gotten them for the company?  

So, is it unethical the person even asked MT what they would do if a person lied to get the discount? For me it depends on the intent. Is it curosity? (ethical) Or was it asked to find out the consequnences? (unethical) There is no evidence either way, so I always assume positive intent (innocent until proven guilty).

If the person was my direct, I think I would coach them on negotiating. It was a poor tactic in pointing out a perceived weakness and it obviously backfired. Part of good neotiating is knowing when a "no" is a "no" instead of a "maybe."

 

 

craigadam's picture

First of all, it's easy to say that if you actually try to claim the discount when your company is paying for the registration, you're acting unethically. That having been clarified, I think it's totally reasonable for the company to inquire, based on two reasons: their duty to the company, and the fact that MT is a little weird.

The first reason is really simple. As a representative of their company, they have an obligation to ensure that the company is making the most of its resources, and they should definitely be finding out if there is a discount available (such as the buy 4, get 1 free offer).

Once the basics of the personal discount are explained, it's reasonable to go a little deeper into understanding how it works. If I were in that person's place, I wouldn't be asking more about because I actually planned to unethically take advantage of it for my company, but rather because it's not something I ever see at other companies. Read into it whatever you will, but I can't think of a single example of a company that trusts its customers the way MT does. I would definitely have asked more about it simply because it's anomalous.

I'm a big fan of MT, and pay for a license out of my own pocket (and purchased the interview series), but the high-minded principles I see (and admire) in its operation are not something I generally see 'out there'.

combatbootboy's picture

Not only does the email seem to carry a veiled threat, it also seems to be seeking an exceptional status. MT isn't required to offer discounts- they do cause they want things to be accessible. You all have a living to make too.

What also bothers me is the assumption that others would also take advantage of the situation. Sure it's possible- but why make that assumption? I would rather assume the best of others. Fairness involves treating people equally- if you grant the discount, where would the line be drawn? It's a slippery slope and the response seems well handled to me.

C

robemax's picture

I agree with Darrell, BLUF is the way to go.  Asking for a discount is acceptable; you likely won't get one if you don't ask.  Had they been trying to demonstrate that they were in an exceptional circumstance, for example, if they were with a non-profit trying to help wounded veterans obtain skills for employment, a second ask would have been acceptable.  Pointing out the way to violate the trust you've placed in your listeners was where they crossed the line.  EVERYONE knows that's an option, but with the risk of sounding nostalgic, that would've gone unsaid years ago.  Our world would be so much better if people acted like ladies and gentlemen in the truest sense.  Thanks for all you do!

KateM's picture

Asking for the "lowest available price" is standard business wrangling. The second part of the exchange doesn't strike me as a threat to act unethically, exactly -- it seems more of a (vague) demand for a) justification why MT offers discounts to a certain type of client and b) why can't that same discount be extended to everyone.

Unless one finds oneself at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul -- at some point in the negotiation, the price is the price. Just as MT is trusting its clients to be honest about what client subtype they are (self pay vs. sponsored), clients need to trust MT that the pricing is transparent and that, really truly, the stated price is really the price.

This issue is particularly close to my heart because of the field I work in -- US medicine, which (other than perhaps certain of the government-sponsored monopsonies like defense contractors) is probably the most price-opaque market for general consumers in the world. I totally get how Joe Patient doesn't understand why is insurance will pay 100% of brand A blood pressure medication but only 50% of brand B brand blood pressure medication.

And certainly medical billing offices have been known to make mistakes -- if something doesn't make sense or is unclear, we hope patients will ask. But at the end of the day, not every discount for every service applies to every patient. But patients routinely demand a discount for no other reason than "I know you gave one to Mrs. Jones" - which of course I can't respond to, because the medical and financial aspects of Mrs. Jones' treatment and payment are nobody's business. This attitude of demanding discounts (with no reference to quality of service, financial need, etc) doesn't seem to be in the tone of pleasant give-and-take negotiation -- it seems more an aggressive, discourteous whining that is justified as "self-advocacy."

At the end of the day, once we've carefully set a fee for a certain service (which we have done after exhaustive market study, regulatory review, etc), that is the price. If you don't trust me to be up front with you about the price, how can you possibly trust me to provide a competent professional service?

mike_bruns_99's picture

Some cultures have different approaches to negotiation and the value of intellectual property.  And fortunately or not, pricing and negotiation can depend on the circumstances.  In the US at least, the way you buy a new car is far different than the way you buy groceries.  How you purchase groceries at a US supermarket is different that buying at a farmers market.  

The requestor seems pushy, and "threat" to lie went overboard and was a stupid thing to say.  But I'm not appalled at the company.  Nieve, yes.  Unethical, too soon to tell.  Maybe I'm cynical.  I've been binge-watching House of Cards on Netflix this week.  

It would be interesting to know "the rest of the story".  Did the company register at the full rate or individual rate?

mark_odell's picture

I read this waiting for the bit at the end which said "and then we got too individual registrations, clearly form that company wanting the discount". i.e. proof that something unethical was done. As it is, I agree with what some others have said and assume positive intent. I think craigadam sums it up well, they were seeking clarification on an anomaly and trying to see what the boundaries were. I can see that this is exactly the question I would ask when faced with that situation. On the flip side, tagging the question with "Please reconsider." did make it somewhat more ambiguous and threat-like. Not graceful or elegant maybe, but not unethical either. PS - It's a good thing you are doing MT by offering this.

Kaceybeth's picture

Error of tact/judgement, but not necessarily ethics. They were grousing about the potential of other people to defraud MT, but not planning to do so themselves!  A more tactful person would have kept that particular thought to themselves, but I don't think it is unethical to have the thought in the first place. 

mark_odell's picture

PPS - embarrassed I just wrote too instead of two - it's late

DSCATCEsq's picture

I remember what Mark first mentioned the situation last April in TITIT. My first reaction was similar to many to "assume positive intent". After reading the actual exchange, it is much harder to do so.

The first couple of emails are OK. There is nothing wrong for asking for a discount to anything. Everyone has a responsibility to their organziation to smartly manage money and budgets. 

The "what means is there" email went too far. What is to stop anyone from taking what does not belong to them? Just because you think you can get away with something does not make it right.

As John Wooden said, the true test of someone's character is what they do "when no one is watching."

Bravo to Mark for handling the situation the way he did! He showed a lot of poise and kindness in reiterating the 4 for the price of 3 offer!

DC

jchadwick's picture

+1

Kaceybeth's picture

Overall I agree that the customer wasn't necessarily acting unethically. However, I do think they were acting rather tactlessly.

I have to admit, I've wondered the same thing myself when looking at the conference prices and wondering if I can swing the cost. As someone who would (for now, at least) have to self-pay, the following thoughts did occur to me: "That's a great thing they're going. Huh, I can see some unethical people trying to take advantage of that offer, I hope they verify non-reimbursement. Wait -- how COULD they verify non-reimbursement? Gosh, they're kind of brave." 

Now, would have shared those thoughts with a MT employee while trying to negotiate a discount for an MT conference? Heck no!

Would I share them with Mark or Mike over a beer?  Maybe...if I am ever lucky enough to have such an opportunity!

Kaceybeth's picture

I meant "doing," not "going," and I left out an "I"  in the second-to-last paragraph. My apologies.

markwalsh99's picture

MT are to be commended for their intent on offering a discount to people who pay out of their own pocket to attend their conferences (as I have done in the past). And, I don't see how it could ever be prevented if an organisation - unethical intent or otherwise - subsequently reimbursed individuals who had paid in advance out of their own pockets.

It is a big, bad world, and there are as many organisations trying to obviate potential frauds in their marketplaces as there are organisations who are trying to get the best price (as distinct from obtaining the best value). However disappointing to MT to feel that it needs to do so, perhaps they need to make their price offering more robust in order to not be taken advantage of. I don't remember whether it was an option, I know I paid for my conference by credit card, maybe the way to make the distinction is to offer the discounted rate to individuals who pay on their OWN credit card, as opposed to organisations who pay by purchase order/invoice or corporate credit card.

As an aside, when I told my boss that I was taking the time off to pay for a conference our of my own pocket, he was, to use his exact words, mightily impressed.

There's a fine line here. I know MT quite rightly jealously guard their IPR, yet this doesn't seem quite as heanous as, for example, ripping-off their content or buying an individual licence then circulating the shownotes around a whole organisation.

Or does that say more about me?

carolyn0710's picture

it's been very interesting to read the different ways in which people interpreted this email exchange. Just goes to show how 'communication is what the listener does', and that email can be a really poor form of communication.
Assuming positive intent, I found the customer lacking in tact, and maybe they have someone higher up the food chain telling them to screw the lowest price possible out of everyone, but I didn't read it as unethical. I thought MT handled the exchange in an extremely professional manner.

straj003's picture

If you are you wanting to see if we feel they crossed the line in the email exchange, I dont think so. 

I do think email is a horrible way to communicate and when someone's communications skills are challenged to begin with then it may become exaggerated.  I actually believe as written the individual simply wants to make certain there's an even playing field. 

While I would hope everyone that participates with MT is above board and that general statistics for ethical behavior would at least skew to the high side for your participants as a realist (that fine balance between being the kid at Christmas who gets an iPod and wondering why it's not the biggest one and the kid who gets horse manure and starts looking for the horse) I'd lay odds that there is somebody or some organization who is participating and is cheating and getting away with it (its kind of like taking Tiger against the field 10 to 15 years ago).  What I got out of the email exchange was someone asking if there was a discount because if you don't ask there certainly will not be one (yes I'm the guy that hits the deli at 7PM at your local grocery store and asks the deli manager if he'll take 5 bucks for the rest of the hot stuff).  Then the follow on email I did not see as a threat of considering unethical behavior but one to make certain it was something MT has indeed thought of to assure a level playing field for all. 

I think your organization does a fantastic job and that the communication from your side was spot on point and answered in a manner that perhaps took into account what I've said. 

I sure hope I didn't burst a bubble here and you don't feel the need to go and hire a loss prevention person.  MT does great things and I really appreciated the comments of "We trust our customers to do the right thing." and "It may sound naive or old-fashioned, but that's who we are."  One day I hope I can get to one of your conferences.

Regards

Kevin1's picture

 

I'm sorry that I cannot find it in my heart to continue to assume positive intent after this exchange.

Yes, I understand. So the answer is "no", you will not give us the out-of-pocket rate if we register our folks and pay for it?

Please reconsider. What means is there to stop anyone from saying they are not going to be reimbursed by their company but they do on the back-end anyway?

Clearly, they have established that they don't qualify for a discount at this point. They have also worked out that a person with mal-intent could purposely mislead MT and get themselves a discount.

They then ask for the same discount that a person with such mal-intent would get. Whether intended or not, it comes across as - I don't want to defraud you. I just want you to give me the same discount that you may give to someone who is defrauding you.

To me, this crossed the line. Intended or not. Reality of perception. This person asked for something they clearly knew they were not entitled to and based their argument on mal-intent. Given it is all in the same 2 paragraph email, I find the possibility of positive intent extremely remote.

However, if giving feedback, I may make allowances for positive intent anyway, and say something like, when you request a discount after having established we are not entitled to it and base your argument on mal-intent, it reflects poorly on your integrity and also on the integrity of this company.  What could you do differently next time?

I do applaud those who can see this with positive intent. You are all more wonderful and gracious than I am.

Regards

Kev

Mark_Hommerding's picture

I live in Iowa. We see presidential candidates all the time. I remember meeting Joe Biden's son in 2007 when his father was still a presidential candidate. He mentioned that his father taught him to not questions the motives of the person on the other side of the aisle. The other side were patriots as well, just wanted to move in a different direction. 

This lesson has since served me well in business. Assume positive intent until proven wrong. The final paragraph of the exchange -- if posted on the MT website -- might have alleviated the questions where the person was probing for a discount.

My company sells photographs to graduates of colleges and universities. I allow our clients (the institutions themselves) to download as many images as they want or order as many prints as they want -- for free. Yes, free. Some have asked a question that sounds like this, "what's to stop us from abusing this system?" My answer is always this -- I have yet to have one of my clients take advantage of me. When that happens, I'll cross that bridge at that time. I expect that people will order the images they need for their institution, and not more, in the interest of our long-term relationship. I'm still batting 1000 after 20 years.

In the case of the person asking to "please reconsider" that might have been a bit much. But what if s/he was in a serious budget situation (is there any other kind?) where the person is struggling to get his top 20% some training to help with retention, motivation, and growth, but is also under a budget-cutting mandate from higher-ups who listened to the awesome MT cast "Race, Don't Chase."

I'll still assume positive intent, but if I were an MT employee, I'd be on the look out for anyone coming from that organization.

Mark_Hommerding's picture

I live in Iowa. We see presidential candidates all the time. I remember meeting Joe Biden's son in 2007 when his father was still a presidential candidate. He mentioned that his father taught him to not questions the motives of the person on the other side of the aisle. The other side were patriots as well, just wanted to move in a different direction. 

This lesson has since served me well in business. Assume positive intent until proven wrong. The final paragraph of the exchange -- if posted on the MT website -- might have alleviated the questions where the person was probing for a discount.

My company sells photographs to graduates of colleges and universities. I allow our clients (the institutions themselves) to download as many images as they want or order as many prints as they want -- for free. Yes, free. Some have asked a question that sounds like this, "what's to stop us from abusing this system?" My answer is always this -- I have yet to have one of my clients take advantage of me. When that happens, I'll cross that bridge at that time. I expect that people will order the images they need for their institution, and not more, in the interest of our long-term relationship. I'm still batting 1000 after 20 years.

In the case of the person asking to "please reconsider" that might have been a bit much. But what if s/he was in a serious budget situation (is there any other kind?) where the person is struggling to get his top 20% some training to help with retention, motivation, and growth, but is also under a budget-cutting mandate from higher-ups who listened to the awesome MT cast "Race, Don't Chase."

I'll still assume positive intent, but if I were an MT employee, I'd be on the look out for anyone coming from that organization.

rikt's picture

I'd expect any of my directs to try to get a discount on anything they register for, purchase, or rent. Our mantra is spend it like it was your money. It never hurts to ask. I completely understand this is "your content" and in my experience folks that create content take very personally when people ask for a discount.

I just don't think there was any other intent than trying to get a better price here. Definitely not an ethics issue in my opinion.

If he registered and did get a 4 for the price of 3 discount - then he was successful. He wouldn't have received that if he hadn't asked for a discount.

brianr5's picture

I don't see anything wrong with the initial request for a discount.  The request for a discount for sending two employees seems reasonable.  Many vendors won't tell you about discounts unless you ask.  I have to spend the companies money with the same restraint I'd spend my money.

The second ask seems a little questionable, but ethical.  They are not being deceptive, it seems like they are directly sayin they know they do not qualify for it, but can they have the rate.  It seems a little wrong to ask for a rate that is being offered as a courtesy to people that are not fortunate enough to have their employers pick up the tab.  One vendor we use offers a Veteran's and an unemployed discount of 20%.  I could not imagine asking for it if I was not in either group, even if I am paying my own way.  The vendor is being generous to help out Veteran's that have served our country and workers that are unemployed and looking for training to help with their job search.  I would be very concerned if one of my directs did ask for these discounts, even if they fully admitted they did not qualify up front.  It just feels wrong, and puts the vendor in an awkward position.  I would not want a direct like this representing our team or company, and I would have doubts on their judgement.

The third statement makes no sense to me.  I am not sure what they are trying to accomplish with it.  They seem to be saying "some people may be dishonest, so can I please have the same deal the dishonest people get?"  I would have serious doubts on their judgement and ethics.  

mkirk's picture

Folks, it's the perfectly polite request ('Please reconsider' ) juxtaposed with the perfectly polite question ('What means is there to stop...') that makes us go 'Hmmmmm...'. The two together become a threat and hence provoke the ethical question - should you threaten someone to get a better price?

It happens all the time. Multi-billion dollar global corps have entire departments dedicated to 'working with suppliers to reduce costs' and it's the number one approach 'get this cost down or the consequences will be....'. Parents use it with their kids 'if you don't eat the cabbage, there'll be no ice cream'. Are we really saying that there is an ethical difference here? It's not nice to be threatened but in my opinion, it's not ethically wrong for the buyer to highlight possible consequences, so I don't personally have an ethical problem with the principle.

That said, I don't think it's an effective approach in these circumstances. The threat to abuse the trust shown by the MT person is very aggressive stance and the fact that it is only implied is even more destroying of trust. I like to think that I would assume + intent for the person on the other end of the exchange but because I believe the threatening approach is ineffective, inappropriate and self serving, I'd ask her to stop using it. Her ethics are her concern, but performance is mine...

mandrillone's picture

Dear MTFriends 
 
I consider it not unethical to ask for a discount, nor to ask twice or even a third time. Indeed good buyers will offer sales people a face saving way out when giving a discount. I don't say it's they right content but the form is not unreasonable. 
 
By announcing his or her intentions, it was clear that they did not intend to game the MT trust system (and bravo MT for supporting self contributors!! As a full price attendee I fully support this system) so I do not think it accurate to suggest a real intent to carry out the explicit  threat. 
 
The potential client does however lack some elegance and grace in his expressions; of course everyone can hold in his head the thought of someone with less scruples gaming the system, but that is insufficient reason to voice that thought.  
 
If I were that persons boss I'd recommend they only voice consequences that they would be proud to ultimately carry out. 
 
As a side note I just listened to the 500th MT cast; thank you Mike and Mark for you commitment and energy, you rock! 
 
Mark Fitzgerald

donm's picture

Of course as a High I, I'll tell a story. In the 1980s, we produced a training video for about $25000. We marketed it to our customers, who were/are multimillion dollar operations, most of them with revenues on the north side of $1B per year.

To make this story shorter, we sold ONE VHS tape (that's what we used to call MP4 and AVI) to a company, and found out they then proceeded to make copies for every one of their installations in obvious violation of the sales and copyright agreement.

In addition, I work in an international environment that spans all levels of countries, from third world kleptocracies to first world oligarchies. The culture in some of the countries I deal with are "if they don't know you're lying and stealing, then it isn't lying and stealing." Due to this, we could never have an honor-based system such as MT offers.

If you deal with the above daily, and you see the MT policy, maybe you would be incredulous. "What stops someone from doing this (knowing that many or most of my customers would do exactly this)?" The question is not one of intent, but of trying to gain understanding, knowing that such a policy for many of our customers would be tantamount to saying, "$850 for everyone."

kurtwestphal's picture

I like to think of two distinct categories of Ethics exists: 1) a set of organizational business practices, 2) a personal statement and execution of ones personal and professional life principals. An organizations brand depends on its constituent members aligning their personal ethics with that of the company. This is also the essence of personal integrity, walking your talk.

Consider also that there are different approaches and cultural norms, especially regarding transaction-based versus relationship-based interaction models. Regardless of ones approach in purchasing a ticket at a discount, initially a a decision is made to pursue a deal and test the other party's ethics. Some cultures expect a deal and to haggle, in the west this is less common. Your statement though is clear, your stance and reason for taking it is obvious, the other party deliberately decided to 'test' to see if they could cleave a misalignment or garner special privileges at both of your ethical expense. they understood your preconditions, they are trying to lower the collective ethical bar. It's very likely that the party asking for the concessions is the same one who would abandon the 'company's principals' and represent the company poorly in another ethical dilemma.

People justify that this particular 'infraction' is no big deal, It is, because they accumulate, and they drive the discontinuity between our 'walking our talk' and our real actions. All of these customer interactions, across the organization, impacts our brand.

I thought your responses were excellent.

Jose_Ramon's picture

I think asking for a discount is ok, as many have written. What I didn't like is that they are asking about personal pays as a way to avoid full payment. Even when MT already offered a special price if they send 4. Maybe MT needs to change that policy to prevent that someone with bad ethics or just to save some money sends people one by one telling company didn't pay. As the emails shows, that is hard to prove and maybe another solution could be made. In my case, if I don't have the money. Then I could ask for the discount and if is not something viable, then maybe send few people and the rest add other date for other to go. One point that is not mentioned is that maybe the sender of the email, in his/her country is ok to do this kind of cheating. Finally, MT response was correct, polite and generous. In case of companies, I

mikefdesign's picture

Each of us has a different upbringing which has shaped us as humans and of course made us messy in the same instance. Although the purchaser was searching for the best discount; good for that person trying to do so. If that greater discount was honored, good on them and their cause to be as thrifty as they could be. I ask my purchasers and my accountants to look for all discounts possible, early pay, prepay, longer terms, multiple purchases - you name it in the search for greater organizational discounts and increased margins but not to the point of alienating my suppliers. If this person worked for me I would provide feedback and suggest next time speak directly to someone at MT rather than allow email interpretation corrupt the message and I would also remind them to ask no more than 3 times (because I like the rules of 3) for risk of losing a fabulous provider or supplier. Trying to go around the system would have received negative feedback and road to trust starts anew. Kudos for MT for sticking to their pricing policy to allow them to keep their products at what they believe is an acceptable margin for the value they create. It is their store, and their products and they can set the pricing they wish to have. We as the consumer must recognize this and we agree to pay a premium for the quality of products served. We choose to pay this. If we do not choose to pay this then we must take our business elsewhere. MT products and pricing cannot be all things to all people, and the MT team has this opportunity to be rewarded for their products and services. Of this I will gladly continue to pay. I have sent a couple of my managers to the conference and I paid full price because I believe the value exists. Just like after listening to the free podcasts for short period a number of years back and realizing the value I immediately moved to a license and kept it up year after year. because of my belief in the value. I also paid for the Interviewing Tools for its value, even when I already have access to the podcasts within this collection. I pay for the products and services offered which includes convenience. However this is my decision and my choice to do so. This may be incongruent with many others in the US or those from different climes and I suspect not everyone agrees with this, but this is how I am able to keep my head high

hnut_2000's picture

What’s reasonable in search of a discount? 
The first two asks were totally fine in my opinion. In fact, I would be upset with staff if they did not try to get a discount.
 
The third request, where she highlights a potential for unethical behavior, was poorly worded at best. There is an implication that she will take advantage of the situation. It also highlights what a poor medium email is for communication. Frankly, if she was looking to establish a good relationship, she just shot herself in the foot.
 
What’s right? 
First two requests are totally fine. I'd even be fine with a third request if there was something more to it than "I can drive a truck through the loop hole you have on your website." That part is wrong. If I just met someone and they started talking about how they were going to take advantage of me, I would have a few choice words for them.
 
If this person worked for you, what would you do? 
I still believe the person was trying to do the right thing for their org. This is simply feedback. However, the piece that I'd be more stern about is the relationship building piece. If she's treating 3rd parties like this, I'm worried about the interactions with others. A reminder on how I expect business to be done in my group is also in order.
 
What if they worked for someone else in your organization?  
Depends on my relationship with them or their boss. If I know them well it would be a simple conversation. "Did you really say X to a vendor? If you said that to me I wouldn't be too happy..."
 
If I don't know them at all, I may not do anything. For this specific instance, I probably wouldn't.

JWasong's picture

We could all try to guess at the individual's intent and many good MT followers have. In the spirit of MT, suggest we look at the behaviors and results. The behaviors are well documented; that is, what was said and how. The results of the individual's actions include:

1. Others are questioning whether the individual would act ethically, here or in the future. The emails created uncertainty and suspicion as to whether he/she could be trusted and whether he/she might purposefully deceive or allow someone to be deceived. That outcome is made clear by this thread.

2. It potentially damaged the company's relationship with MT, a company whom his/her organization respects and with whom they wanted to do business.

There's more but these two are enough. I wouldn't like the emails being published in tomorrow's New York Times if it were me or my company.

The book Exposure is a good read if anyone believes some companies, countries, or cultures are more or less ethically inclined. The book describes a group of people and culture I respect very much and a challenge they collectively face in this way. It's amazing how much the unethical choices of a few individual's can damage the perception of a much larger group.

bb_nyc's picture

I work in the nonprofit sector and over the years I have been involved in projects that allow people to make the choice to pay or how much to pay. And we almost always offer discounts for students and seniors.

For the most part people are respectful and do follow ethical principles, but not always. When making the choice to offer these concessions, we know that some people will cheat, but the number is so few we don't pursue them. They're wrong, but we're more focussed on the people who are well-served by our choices.

Maybe people suck - but really, only a tiny fraction of people suck - most people are excellent human beings. I remember reading that Panera Bread runs a number of restaurants that are "pay-what-you-can" to make healthy food accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it, and those locations still earn 70% of what regular locations do.

What I found funny about this exchange is that the customer understood your policy, but really was seeking your OK to break the rule... to relieve their consicence. It was totally correct and polite of you to remain firm and friendly.

xburnette's picture

When I signed up to come to a conference, I read the reason of the price differences and knew exactly what the intention was.  There was no question.  It's explained very clearly on the website.  I didn't even question that I was going to pay more because my company would reimburse me.  I thought it was great that they offered a lower price point for those that weren't in the same boat as me.  My second thought was, "I bet a lot of people take advantage of them".

The first email could have been construed as clarifying the price difference, all of the emails after that were tacky and embarrassing.  I'm glad I don't work for that person; and I'm glad my subordinates don't either.

richkonline's picture

I was in a taxi a few years back coming home from a work trip. The driver and I were talking so he knew that the cost of the ride would be picked up by the company. At the end of the trip I paid him. He got out his receipt book and asked "how much do you want me to make this out for?" I said the same as the amount that I had paid. He looked at me and said that I worked for big firm and I was due a reward. I politely said no. He on the other hand got angry and said that I was some sort of high and mightydo-gooder. So, sometimes it is not easy to do the right thing. I was uncomfortable, perhaps a little scared. I never used his taxi company again. I am an auditor and we often see that the largest of frauds start off with the smallest of deceits. I am not saying that everyone who takes a pencil home from work will be the next headline fraudster. It's wrong nonetheless. What if my employer had found out that I had made $10 on my trip through handing in a fraudulent expense claim? Would that have been my next pay raise gone, or my job perhaps. Neither worth it. If I interview someone and they get caught in a lie, am I going to employ them? What if that was a brief glimpse into their nature. So in the Manager Tools incident, everyone knows that they are all millionaires, they work simply for the fun of it - and then hardly ever, and their prices for their conferences are exorbitant bordering on obscene. Not at all!!!!! I saw how hard Dani worked at the conference I attended. Two phrases come to mind: 1. The laborer is worthy of his hire. 2. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Do you fight for the very best deal that you can get, or rather a fair deal for you and the other person. So it was "dishonest" to ask Manager Tools for the discount that did not apply. I am not sure I like the word "unethical". The latter word sounds as if it is an acceptable choice between two "ethical" and "unethical" in certain scenarios. Good on you Manager Tools for addressing the hard questions.

MarkAus's picture

I can't wait to see Manager Tools' response to this, it'll be interesting.  Here's my take:

First, well done for answering this emails as if there was positive intent even though there clearly is not.  Very classy.

The first email says that the person is well informed of the rate structure via the website but still wants the cheapest rate even though s/he knows he is not entitled.   The second email is basically asking the question again in a more succinct way.

This is unethical because the person is knowingly trying to exploit a loophole to gain at the expense of someone else.  In this case the harm is being done to both Manager Tools AND individuals who would not otherwise be able to get this training but for the reduced rate.   Clearly this is not ethical behaviour.

The third email the most troubling and is an attempt at coercing Manager Tools to get the reduced rate by saying "What's to stop us?".    This is particularly troubling because the person has repeatedly been told they are not entitled to the individual rate and is now resorting to threats.   Not only that but the line of thinking that leads to "everyone else does it" or "somebody else could do it" is a common and unfortunate excuse for many ethical and moral violations - sometimes with very ugly consequences.

Manager Tools' final response is equisite and the way you eloquently stuck to your guns is why I love you guys.  Good work. 

So to answer your questions:

1) What’s reasonable in search of a discount? 

Asking an honest question because you truly don't know the answer is fair.  "What's the best rate you have?" is reasonable.  "I know there's a rate that's not meant for me but I'd like it" is a lot more questionable.

2) What’s right? 

Accepting the first answer you get regarding rates when rate cards are clearly posted and common knowledge.

3) If this person worked for you, what would you do? 

If it was a first instance - immediate feedback followed by a meeting (maybe O3) where I explain the behavioural standards expected.  

4) What if they worked for someone else in your organization? 

I have to assume I've come across this email chain because it relates to my work.  If I had a good relationship with the person and/or their boss, I would make my thoughts well known.   If I had no relationship, I'd want to make the email chain available to the person's boss so s/he can make an informed decision. 

 

andrewjohn1317's picture

I will also think about a license because i so enjoy your free podcasts and want to see how much more you chaps offer.